The Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) campaign, Safe Standing, aims to persuade the Government, football authorities and football clubs to trial limited standing sections at football grounds across the Premier League and Championship. In recent months, the campaign has gathered momentum after several high profile clubs gave their backing to the campaign, which in turn, attracted interest from the media.
As an advocate of the campaign, I was delighted to hear from FSF case worker, Amanda Jacks, who recently joined us as a guest on The Fighting Cock podcast. Amanda shared some myths around standing at football, as well as revealing several issues in the the Taylor report, which followed the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.
Since that podcast episode, I’ve been thinking about my experience as a supporter who travels to many games, home, away and abroad and how safe standing trials would improve the two hours I spend in the stadium.
The issue that stood out for me was the major challenge around the safety of standing areas. I therefore thought that I would illustrate my challenge back on that point, by documenting a typical match day to highlight the inconsistencies in the way that football fans are treated by authorities.
I’ll leave my house in the morning, crossing two major roads (at a pelican or toucan crossing… not sure which but it’s a zebra crossing with no traffic lights). Injury avoided, I’ll arrive at a London Underground station, negotiate the rigid metal escalators and safely board the tube train. But wait, it’s the January sales and it’s heaving. Not a seat in sight. Even worse, I can’t reach a handrail. For the next 15 minutes, I have to rely on my balance to avoid crashing in to fellow passengers, or worse, a glass panel.
The tube pulls in to Euston and after swerving travellers seemingly emulating tortoises by carrying their houses on their backs, I’ll make my way up two further escalators. I’m a bit early for once and my train is yet to have been allocated a platform. I brace myself, then Platform 9 flashes up on the screen. A herd of passengers stampede toward the platform with the enthusiasm of Jo Brand as Toby Carvery opens their doors on a Sunday morning.
The train company have neglected to factor in that Tottenham are playing away and the train is over sold. As a male in their mid twenties, I’m back of the queue for a seat, after the disabled, the elderly, pregnant women and people’s cats (yes, people take cats on trains.) Therefore, my £80 day return ticket entitles me to lean against a window outside a toilet that has an odour reminiscent of an abattoir. I’ll settle in, open a can and look forward to the journey and a catch up with mates.
As the train pulls out of London and switches to Pendolino mode, conversations become an after thought whilst being thrown side-to-side at over 100 mph, trying not to trip over those now sat on the floor and more importantly, avoiding any precious lager spillage.
There’s a theme here, right? And upon arrival, being pushed in to an overcrowded pub, then herded on to buses, where again you have to stand as the buses hurtle round corners and brake sharply. If you’re lucky enough to have a hand rail within reach, you grasp it with all your might to avoid both injury and the indignity of picking yourself up off someone’s lap.
It’s not been without hazard that I’ve made it to the ground and as I fight my way through a concourse clearly not fit to accommodate thousands of supporters, I find my allocated seat.
The game kicks off, but I remember little of the first ten minutes as the stewards impede my view and distract my attention as they argue the toss over why standing is such a dangerous act. People around me are ejected and don’t return, but still, the vast majority of the away end stands up and are happy to do so.
I make my way back to London and am lucky enough to celebrate a Spurs win with a few beers and a gig. I’m high off the win and once the gig gets going, venture forward where people, standing, are getting a little excited. A crowd favourite hits a crescendo and a few bodies scatter and as I had a few hours earlier after Gareth Bale’s shot hit the net, I extend a hand to help someone back to their feet.
So, it’s hardly life threatening stuff but you’ve got to be prepared for a few knocks and scrapes along the way. Crowds, be it on transport, at a gig or in a bar will police themselves and generally look after one another. But in all that, the only place where you’re challenged for standing is the only place where you really want to stand in the first place.
It has to be about choice. It’s not about stripping all seats from every ground and forcing people to stand against their will. It’s about giving people the option to stand with their friends and family in a well controlled, purpose built section of a ground. It works in Germany, so let’s make it work here too.
Get behind the Safe Standing campaign. Fan power just about matters still and it’s the only way we can influence change is by speaking up and promoting choice for how we want to enjoy watching our club.